If the word “mead” has you conjuring images of raucous Norsemen consuming the honey wine from hollowed-out bull horns after a day of battle, well, your insightful ideations would be correct. You’d also be correct if those ideations traveled a bit further back, say, to Neolithic China, to ancient Greece, to medieval Europe. Shakespeare consumed it. Tolkien lauded it. And "Game of Thrones" helped make it cool.
And Joshua and Dana Eckton, who opened White Bear Meadery in June of 2019, have brought the millenias-old drink into the modern era and straight into our mead-loving souls. Yep, turns out, we really love it. Since that first pour of golden-hued mead in their Gem Lake location, they’ve expanded their mead offerings from a few varieties to more than 20—and have almost outgrown their physical space and are in search of a new location in which to expand. And that was during a pandemic.
“It’s been wonderful to talk to our customers about mead, to share with them what goes into it and how it’s made,” says Josh Eckton. “It’s not a very common beverage compared to wine or beer, with almost 200 breweries and a few dozen wineries in Minnesota alone. There are wineries or cideries that make mead, but we’re the only place with “mead” in its name.”
Eckton, who has a degree in food science, fell in love with mead the first time he and Dana tried it. "It was something different, and we weren’t really into the other beverages at the time. It was on the sweeter side and had mellow flavors; not too sour and not too bitter," said Eckton. "We had a hard time finding it, so we decided to open up our own meadery so we could share it with everyone."
From Honey to Mead
In a roomful of shiny fermenters (mostly 80-gallon, but a few 50 and 110 gallon), Eckton adds Minnesota-grown honey, water and yeast, and lets the fermentation process take place; sometimes he'll add other ingredients, such as fresh fruit, coffee, hot peppers, hops, apple cider, , root beer (yes, root beer!), etc., depending on the variety he's making.
"It takes about three weeks to ferment," says Eckton. "And then we let it age for a while so the flavors can mellow; the whole process takes about two-to-three months."
He staggers the batches to make sure he keeps plenty of all varieties in stock; the alcohol-by-volume (ABV) number of his meads vary, but most are within the 12-13 percent range, with a few outliers: one being 13 percent and another 5 percent.
Spreading the Word
Eckton and White Bear Meadery attended their largest event, the Winter Beer Dabbler, just before the pandemic in February 2020 and he was thrilled with the feedback and response.
"It was wonderful for so many people to be able to taste our meads," says Eckton. "It helped a lot with name recognition."
Eckton has hopes he can one day bring his mead to the Minnesota State Fair and to the Renaissance Festival. And he also hopes to one day sell his mead in liquor stores.
"You can find lots of beer and wine, but if you ask for mead, the clerk sometimes won't know what it is, or they'll only have a few to choose from," said Eckton.
But almost two years in, Eckton is hopeful about the future and spreading the word about this age-old beverage.
"It's looking good for us," he says. "We're trying to make it work."
Mead to Go
White Bear Meadery offers mead on tap in their 20-seat taproom, and in 750 ml and 375 ml bottles, depending on variety, as well as flip-top 16 oz. and 32 oz. growlers. You can also purchase honey (in a variety of forms, including in jars and in sticks), bees wax and bees wax candles.
Acergylyn: made with honey and maple syrup
Bochet: made with caramelized honey
Braggot: brewed with honey and malt, with or without hops
Capsicumel: flavored with chili peppers
Cyser: honey and apple juice fermented together
Hydromel: low-alcohol mead
Melomel: created with honey and any fruit
Metheglin: made with herbs and spices
Pyment: brewed with red or white grapes, or grape juice
Rhodemel: honey with rose hips, rose petals and water
White Bear Meadery Menu (A few of the many varieties to choose from.)
All varieties are made with Minnesota-grown honey, and locally sourced fruits and ingredients.
Berserker: Bochet coffeeamel with cold brewed coffee from UP Coffee Roasters and Minnesota-grown bochet. Semi-sweet, with sweet coffee notes.
Brun Bjorn: A smetheglin mead made with root beer and buckwheat honey. Sweet.
Dragon’s Breath: Made with chipotle (smoked jalapeno) peppers and basswood honey, a variety known as capsicumel, Dragon’s Breath mead conjures images of Medieval knights and mead halls. Semi-sweet.
Dragon’s Fire: If you want a little more heat, this capsicumel variation is made with habanero peppers, garlic hot sauce and basswood honey, and is sure to kick your taste buds up a notch. Semi-sweet.
Helbreder:Melomel with Minnesota-grown strawberries, rhubarb and wildflower honey. Semi-sweet.
Spiced Eple: A mead variety made with apple cider, from Pine Tree Apple Orchard, cinnamon sticks and wildflower honey. Semi-sweet.
Viking’s Blod: A cool mead with an even cooler name, this popular variety is made with tart cherries and wildflower honey. Semi-sweet.
Did you Know?
The term “honeymoon” is rooted in an age-old custom of giving newly married couples enough mead to drink for the first month following the wedding, or one cycle of the moon. Believed to have fertility benefits, the hope was that this mead-filled month would result in a baby nine months later.
Mmmmm for Mead
In addition to sipping the age-old libation, you can also use mead when you're cooking and baking. Here, Joshua Eckton shares a drool-worthy recipe from food.com; you may want to double or triple the recipe to ensure you have plenty on which to nosh.
Chicken in Mead Sauce
- 4 chicken wings and/or thighs
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 4 oz. mushrooms
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 5 oz. mead
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fry chicken in oil and butter until browned. Put in casserole dish and set aside. To make sauce, add chopped onion to oil and butter; fry for 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms, parsley, lemon juice, mead and seasonings; stir well. Cook for additional 3 minutes and pour sauce over chicken. Cover and bake in oven for 1 hour.
Sunday: noon-8 p.m.
Monday: by appointment
Tuesday: by appointment
Wednesday: 4-10 p.m.
Thursday: 4-10 p.m.
White Bear Meadery
1595 E. County Road E, Gem Lake; 651.352.9552; whitebearmeadery.com